Kent County Profile: ‘Healthy’ real estate market and ‘flurry’ of new businesses

From left, Delaware State News editor Andrew West, President of DE Turf Bill Strickland, Director of Kent Economic Partnership James Waddington and Delaware State News publisher Darel LaPrade during the Kent County Profile unveiling at Noble’s Pond on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The ninth edition of the Kent County Profile was officially unveiled on Tuesday at The Point — the Noble’s Pond clubhouse in Dover.

The 60-page glossy magazine is a collaborative effort between the Delaware State News and the Kent Economic Partnership. It’s designed to be an economic development tool.

The unveiling of the profile is an event that has transformed into the de facto update on economic progress in the county. Local politicians, delegates, organization leaders and administrators were all on hand to receive the dispatch.

To kick things off, Andrew West, editor of the Delaware State News, talked about 2017’s top economic development headlines. Lauding the county’s continued focus on aviation he pointed to the completion of renovations at Dover Air Force Base and last year’s “Thunder Over Dover” open house.

“It was a great event that drew in around 65,000 people,” said Mr. West. “There are plans in order for another open house in 2019.”

Employing 6,400 employees and having an estimated $565 million economic impact on the region, the air base is a crucial part of the central Delaware community, said Mr. West.

Also in the aviation realm, recent developments at the Delaware Airpark in Cheswold were noted.

“A few months ago we celebrated the opening of a new $33 million runway there — that’s a substantial community airport project that is coming along nicely,” said Mr. West. “That airpark is home to Delaware State University’s aviation program, and there happens to be a pilot shortage in the country. It’s nice to see that right here in Kent County we’re doing something about training new pilots.”

President of DE Turf Bill Strickland speaks during the Kent County Profile unveiling at Noble’s Pond on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Among other development, Mr. West also spent time expounding on several medical facilities undergoing construction and renovation that are part of what he calls a “medical industry boom.”

“We have the $19 million Center at Eden Hill in Dover that should be opening soon,” he said. “Then there is First State Orthopaedics building a new facility in Dover as well. Then there is the very large $300 million Bayhealth campus being built.”

Dover’s city planner David Hugg also championed a medical field boom in the area during his presentation.

“It doesn’t matter where you look in Dover, a building related to medical care is getting built, expanding or renovated,” he said. “The health care industry in Dover is very strong and getting stronger.”

Mr. Hugg said both building permits and business licenses also saw modest increases from the previous year.

“For building permits in Dover we’re up to 2,400 from 2,200 the year before,” he said. “Business licenses, which is a really good indicator of economic health, are up to 2,900 from 2,200 the year before. Also, in the last six months, we’ve seen over $15 million worth of new commercial construction.”

Although noting that Dover’s population appears to be growing slowly, Mr. Hugg says the brick and mortar “on-the-ground” work is “taking off,” both in the downtown area and the Rt. 13 corridor.

Chair of the Kent Economic Partnership and Vice President of Becker Morgan Group Gregg Moore during the Kent County Profile unveiling at Noble’s Pond on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

The DE Turf Sports Complex outside Frederica also got some face time at the unveiling, especially since a photo from one of its tournaments graced the “top secret” cover of the new magazine. Bill Strickland, chairman of the DE Turf Board of Directors, was on hand to recount the sports complex’s first year in operation.

“By the numbers, 2017 was a huge success for DE Turf — 40,000 people came to the turf during the year, 4,000 hotel rooms were booked. 920 youth sports travel teams came to the turf and 32 hotels received the benefit of our visitors coming here for tournament weekends,” he said.

Long in the making, the idea for the complex was originally floated back in 2008, Mr. Strickland said. The long process of getting it approved and eventually built was one that proved to shatter expectations, he said.

“While working on it we did more feasibility analysis than I care to think about,” Mr. Strickland said. “But, the most recent study we had done said two things: we’d be very fortunate to have 10 tournaments in our first year and that would shouldn’t ever think that we’d be able to host a ‘national’ tournament in a place called Frederica, Delaware. I’m pleased to announce that we had 20 tournaments in 2017 and that next year the Youth National Lacrosse Tournament is coming to Frederica, Delaware.”

DE Turf also claims to have 40 tournaments already scheduled for the 2018 season. The principal sports played at the complex are field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, 7 on 7 football and ultimate Frisbee.

Kent real estate market

Delaware State News publisher Darel La Prade speaks during the Kent County Profile unveiling at Noble’s Pond on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Beau Zebley’s, president of the Kent County Association of Realtors, noted in his presentation that while Kent County’s real estate market wasn’t exactly booming, it was experiencing “healthy” and “sustainable” growth.

He pointed out that Realtors in the county settled 2,436 sales in 2017 to the 2,090 settled in the previous year. However, the county’s inventory of homes seems to be selling best in the high $200,000 range and below, said Mr. Zebley.

In addition to the 16.55 percent increase in total sales, the county also saw an increase of 3.2 percent in average sale price and a decrease of about 10 percent in time spent on the market during 2017.

“In essence, we’re getting more sales, with higher sales prices in less time,” said Mr. Zebley. “The inventory right now is about 2 months supply for anything $300,000 and below. We really can’t keep enough houses on the market right now in that first time home buyer and investor price range, a lot of buyers are competing for the same property and they are getting sold very quickly.”

The new Kent County Profile features a catalog of county resources and information in addition to in-depth analysis of various economic developments that took place during 2017.

The magazine will be available from the Kent County Economic Development Office and select events. It is also available at www.kentcountyprofile.com.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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